Timing questioned in cop’s firing over Confederate shorts

Provided Shannon Dildine was fired from the North Charleston Police Department after posting on Facebook this photo of him wearing Confederate flag boxers.

A key question about the firing of a North Charleston police officer who posted a photo of himself wearing Confederate flag boxer shorts remains unanswered.

Nobody has said when former Sgt. Shannon Dildine put the photo on his Facebook page. Did he post it before or after a reported white supremacist who posed with a handgun and Confederate flag on a website where he posted a racist manifesto was arrested in the slaying of nine people at Emanuel AME Church?

A police department spokesman said on Friday that he didn’t know.

The photo from Dildine’s Facebook page did not include the date it was posted. It’s also not clear who pulled the photo and circulated it.

Dildine, who has 10 days from the date of his Wednesday firing to appeal, has not said.

The city became aware of the photo Tuesday after it began circulating.

The department already was in the national spotlight after a white officer, Michael Slager, shot a black man, Walter Scott, in the back as he tried to flee after a brief struggle following a traffic stop in April.

The North Charleston Civil Coalition for Reform, formed after Scott’s death, was demanding the department review and improve its racial policies.

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey had just made a public statement calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds.

Then came the Facebook photo of Dildine posing in Confederate flag boxer shorts. The next day, Chief Eddie Driggers told Dildine in a letter that he was fired.

“In light of current events, posting an inflammatory photograph in a way that permitted it to become widely distributed shows a lack of judgment that is unacceptable,” Driggers said in the letter.

Driggers said Dildine could not have continued as an officer because any arrest of a minority could be challenged on the basis of possible racial bias.

Kwadjo Campbell, a former Charleston city councilman who is a consultant to the coalition, said he would have recommended sensitivity training if the photo had been posted some time ago.

Another important question is whether the officer had any other complaints against him, Campbell said. The department has not responded to a request to answer that question.

Dildine had been with North Charleston since 1996. His records with the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy show certification for hundreds of hours of training and no complaints. There is no record that he was an officer anywhere other than North Charleston.

More than 200 comments were posted on The Post and Courier’s website and more than 500 on Facebook after the story was posted Thursday, many debating whether the city violated Dildine’s right to express his views.

It’s hard to say whether the firing was justified without knowing all the facts of the situation, according to Victoria Middleton, executive director of the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“Free speech cases can be complex, so facts matter,” she said in an email. “In general, we don’t think that public employees like teachers give up their right to free speech in their private lives, but — and this is a critical ‘but’ — police officers have a special role of public trust.”

She referred to a Friday blog post by Dennis Parker, director of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program. The post on aclu.org concludes with: “Take down the Confederate flag? Yes, of course. But cure the disorder that caused it to be raised in the first place.”

“The (North Charleston Police) Department’s response to this situation doesn’t get to deeper concerns we have about whether officers are importing racial biases into their work in the community,” Middleton said.

This was the second controversy involving a local police officer since the church shootings.

A video of a Charleston police officer telling a group of rowdy children in the Ardmore community in West Ashley, “Don’t go to church and get hurt” surfaced on social media this week. The video was still under review Friday, police spokesman Charles Francis said.

Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.